Consumer complaints can no longer be ignored

I recently bought ready-mix cement at a chain hardware store. I followed the instructions carefully in mixing the cement, but when I started pouring it the consistency was clearly not right and it would not set. I went back to the hardware store to complain that the cement quality was unsatisfactory, but the store clerk said he couldn’t help me and that I must write a letter to the store with my complaint and attach photos, which I then did but have still not heard from them. Surely they are required to respond to a written complaint and cannot just ignore me?

In short, you are correct and the store cannot just ignore you. Your frustration is such a common encounter that the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 (“CPA”) was promulgated to help protect consumers. Recently, this protection was further expanded by the Consumer Goods and Services Industry Code of Conduct (“Code of Conduct”) published in terms of the CPA which Code of Conduct now also established the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (“Ombud”).

The Code of Conduct applies to just about all consumer transactions regulated by the CPA (which is just about most commercial transactions a consumer will undertake with a business) and to all suppliers selling goods or services to consumers. The Code of Conduct does however exclude transactions that are governed by other specific public regulations such as the automotive industry, electronic communication services and transactions with organs of state or financial institutions.

The Code of Conduct serves to inform consumers of the various consumer rights available to them and is aimed at helping reduce the disadvantage often experienced by consumers when trying to enforce their rights against a business, as well as protect consumers from unfair trade practices.

The Ombud has also been established to provide a dispute resolution mechanism for disputes arising from consumer transactions. The Ombud can be approached free of charge to help address a dispute laid by a consumer. The Ombud is also responsible to help create awareness of consumer rights and the responsibilities of suppliers to act in accordance with the CPA and Code of Conduct. 

In terms of the Code of Conduct all suppliers are also required to establish internal complaints-handling procedures for dealing with customer complaints. The adherence to the Code of Conduct must be displayed prominently at the place of business as well as on its website and a copy of the Code of Conduct (or summary thereof) and the supplier’s internal complaints-handling process must be made available to any consumer upon request, or the consumer must be directed to where to obtain a copy of the Code of Conduct and/or the internal complaints-handling process. The contact details of the Ombud should also be displayed for consumers who wish to make use of its dispute resolution procedures where the supplier’s complaints procedures did not satisfactorily address the consumer’s complaint. The complaints procedures and process for managing consumer complaints must also be well-communicated to staff of the supplier and staff must be trained in effectively dealing with complaints and/or consumer disputes. 

The Code of Conduct and the Ombud will go a long way in assisting consumers like yourself to be aware of the process for lodging a compliant and having a complaint dealt with effectively – and so avoid the frustration of a business that does not wish to try and address a customer’s complaint or tries to make you jump through hoops before they will listen to you. 

July 16, 2015

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